How to talk to your barber

When you get your mom to cut your hair for all your life, it’s not surprising to feel lost after wandering into a barbershop for the first time. How should I talk to my barber? What’s a number two? What does it mean to taper something?

Since I’ve moved to Ottawa, I’ve realized I know absolutely nothing about barbershop lingo, so I got in contact with two people who are in the business of cutting hair to give some tips about how to talk to my barber in the future.

Casey Beaulieu, although new to cutting hair, is an apprentice at Hairfella’s Barbershop. Chenise Moore, who has been cutting hair for a little longer than Beaulieu, is a stylist at Foilhead in Ottawa.

Speak in weeks

Speaking in weeks can help. Usually your hair will grow out evenly in the way it’s already cut, so if it was longer on the top and a little shorter on the sides, it will grow out evenly but retain the same style.

“A good barber will probably know what your hair looked like four weeks ago, so this is probably the simplest solution,” said Beaulieu.


You can taper your hair anywhere on your head, which essentially means letting it fade. The most common area for this is on the sides and back of your head, but specify where you want your hair to fade.

“Specify if you want the nape (or back) of your neck to have rounded or square corners, since it’s the area you can’t see and everyone else can,” said Beaulieu.

Numbered haircuts

Have you ever been to the barber and had them ask if you want a number two? Well, the numbers essentially go from short to long with one being the shortest. You can use these numbers to specify what length you want your hair on different areas on your head.

“The most common one people ask for is probably a number two on the sides and a number three on the top. Try to find out which one works with your style and what to ask of your barber depending on that,” said Beaulieu.

Beard, sideburns and front

Certain barbershops and stylists will do some work on your beard, so make sure to ask if you want to get rid of it or style it in a certain way. Usually the hairdresser will ask if you style your hair in a certain way and if you want sideburns, but keep these in mind just in case they don’t.

“Let the stylist know if your prefer clippers or scissors,” said Moore. “Some men do not like clippers and will only ask for scissors.”

Clean up

Let’s be real, take a shower and wash your hair before getting your hair cut. No one wants to cut unhygienic and dirty hair, so do this to make it a pleasant experience for everyone.

“Be sure to ask the stylist for a wash after the cut and not before,” said Moore. “This way all the little hairs are rinsed out.”